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Chief Justice: Courts must 'think local'

Green Bay, Wisconsin - October 17, 2007

Addressing the state’s judges, who are gathered here for the two-day Wisconsin Judicial Conference, Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson today delivered her State of the Judiciary Address, calling for the creation of locally devised and administered programs rather than “sweeping statewide solutions” to justice issues.

“We have learned that statewide programs are a hard sell,” Abrahamson told the gathering of about 250 judges and court administrators. “They can be costly, and often one size does not fit all. In contrast, locally devised and administered programs bring together people of many diverse backgrounds in the community who are invested in making a difference and who are able to adjust course to reflect the changing realities that they face.”

The Chief Justice pointed to county criminal justice councils – currently in operation in more than two dozen Wisconsin counties – as an example of an effective justice strategy. These bodies are comprised of decision-makers from the courts, human services, law enforcement, and more. They focus on improving existing processes and finding new ways to tackle criminal justice problems. Drug courts, victim impact panels, and other innovative approaches often result from the work of these councils.

Abrahamson explained that successful local programs often take root and grow across the state. She discussed programs that she has observed during the second year of her three-year, 72-county tour. To date, she has visited 42 counties and has learned about teen courts, drug courts, innovative programs to tackle drunken driving, efforts to improve services to families, new resources for people who do not speak English, and more.

Abrahamson opened the two-day conference, which is taking place at the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center in Green Bay. Director of State Courts A. John Voelker followed her speech with the annual State of the Director’s Office speech.

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